Sunday, August 03, 2008


A couple of months ago, we had visited somebody, and they were showing Puttachi pictures in a book.
"Tiger Elli?" They asked her. (Where is Tiger?).
Puttachi looked blank. They were surprised, and they called out to me and asked me how it is that Puttachi did not know Tiger.
I said, "She doesn't know Tiger, she knows "huli" (Tiger in Kannada).
"Puttachi, huli elli?" They asked her.
Her eyes lit up, she pointed to the Tiger in the book, and for good measure, shaped her hands like claws and roared.

I talk to Puttachi almost entirely in Kannada, and most of the common nouns and verbs are also in Kannada up to a sensible limit. For example, though I know that Rhinoceros in Kannada is GhenDamriga and Ostrich is BenkikoLi, I teach her Rhinoceros and Ostrich. Similarly, I call a chair "Kurchi", but a table, "Table", not Meju, simply because that is how I would say it.

But I know lots and lots of people, some who are not even English fans or fanatics, who use English for nouns when talking to Puttachi. For example, they will most likely tell me, "Shruthi, aa hoovu eshTu channagide noDu!" (Look! How beautiful that flower is!), and then immediately turn to Puttachi and say, "noDu, flower nOdu." Why "hoovu" to me and "flower" to her? And this is not a one-off incident.

I first wondered if this was a Kannadiga trait, but the little boy next door told me, "Aunty, sky mein sun hota hai aur night mein moon aur stars hote hain." Whatever happened to aakash, chand and suraj? Relegated to romantic film songs?

At he park I see more than fifty percent of parents talking to their kids in English. Entirely in English. I know that many of them are from bilingual marriages, and English is the common language at home, but the others?

Is it training for school? Is it an effort to sound "upmarket"? Or are there any other legitimate reasons?

Puttachi recognizes both English and Kannada words for several objects now, because I read out the English word from the book, and tell her the Kannada word for it. (And as it happens, she finds the English word easier to say!) Anyway, I am just keeping my speech to her Kannada based, sprinkled with English. And I am not too bothered.

Children are like sponges. I don't think there is anything to worry about that they will not learn English in time for school, if that is the reason. If there is any other reason, I would love to hear it.


Manasa said...

In my case, I know most of the vegetable(like seemebadnekaayi) or the spice names only in Kannada since the vendors can understand only the local tongue.

Arati said...

It's great that you are talking to Puttachi in your native tongue. These pre-school years are the best years for her to get comfortable with it. Also, I have heard that the more languages a kid is exposed to at an early age, the better they are at picking up multiple languages (don't really know how scientifically proven this is). In fact, I also know kids in bilingual marriages, who speak in one tongue when talking to one parent/grandparent, and comfortably switch to the other tongue when talking to the other side!

Which Main? What Cross? said...

ಏನ್ಗನ್ನಡ-ನಾ ಕ೦ಗ್ಳಿಶಾ?

Wunderyearz said...

We speak to Jelly in Malayalam, but when reading out a book to her I read it in English and then tell her the same in Malayalam. She in fact understands English probably listening to me and SM speaking.She would get to learn English once she is in school so we are particular she knows her mother tongue really well too.

Mama - Mia said...


ours a bilingual shaadi and english seems the easiest way out! though when i do hsow Cubby pictures i make it a point to translate it in Hindi at least and at times Marathi which is my mother tongue!

apart from that even M and me speak in english more often than not!

glad Puttachi is learning kannada as well as english!!

she sounds damn cute!! :)



Lekhni said...

I have noticed, too, that most parents teach their kids English words first, but I always thought that was preparation for school interviews and so on. Plus, how many people know the Indian language word for "rhinocerous" :) We are much more comfortable in English ourselves :(

M S Raghunandan said...

very nice narration.
i feel most of them do it to sound up market
some of them may feel inferior speaking in their native tongue.
i had one such case whose mother tongue was kannada but she refused to speak to me in kannada. our conversation:
"doctor i wanted an appointment in the evening"
"enu tondare"
"one of my upper teeths is paining toomuch"
"its like comes and goes, comes and goes"
i enjoy talking to her. unfortunately she went on a job to mumbai and now she has been sent to UK by her company. i do not knoew what is in store for me.

Keshav Kulkarni said...

we speak in kannada with our 2 1/2 year krishna. When my kannada friends come to dinner to our house, they speak with us in Kannada, and then when they turn to Krishna, hey start speaking in English! I tell almost every Kannadiga who come to our house that my son still does not understand English, you can very easily speak to him in Kannada. Its all because as soon as poeple come to UK or US or Aus, they want their children to learn only English.

To our surprise, our son, when we ask our sone "what is "kelage" in English?". he replies "down".. already he is able to differentiate between 2 languages.

There is no great deal in learning Englsh. One of my freinds did not know any English till he was 5th standard, he barely passed English during SSLC. He stood distinction in Engineering and got very high scores in TOFFEL, and now he has settled in US and speaks US accent.

People in South Kannada dist speak tulu, konkani, kannada and english without any difficulty. People of banglaore speak kannada, tamil, hindi and english fluently.

Its all in mind of people who migrate and think English is the only great language on Earth, and Kannada is language of poor.

Thanks for the wonderful piece of writing. Sorry for scribbling too much.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations to you ...speaking in Kannada to your child is wonderful and the your write up is thought provoking...

few points to ponder though.

1. ' sprinkled with English' much sprinking is right and who decides?

2. How many of us earn our living using Kannada...? or get our knowledge in that medium?

3. If someone living in Bengalooru has to think and blog about it, then how about those who live away?

4. Once i spoke to a famous Kannada writer...he said that' like animals become extinct during evolution, so do languages'


jayashree aunty

Anonymous said...

To the post owner above me, and to those whoever thinks in same way:

1. when people use English with Kids, is that a full conversation in English?- As a fact No. Just nouns and few other words are english and verbs generally are in some Indian languages. So does parents talk in English or its Hinglish, Kannaglish, teluglish etc etc?

2. When people want to teach english to their kids, to how much English literature they expose their children to(or themselves to)? Does teaching daily nouns in English, makes you a good English speaker?

3. How many parents can express each feeling, expression in English without ever using their mother language? How children will express themselves, when they do not have words for that feeling?

4. Its not about using the language for work. leaving happy life is more important. If next generation can not express themselves well, if they are taught that the aim of life it just to attain first rank and earn lots of money, and if parents never take efforts to craft (I mean this word) a good human being from their little ones, what kind of life we give to our children? will they be ever happy and can enjoy life? Life is much more than getting a good job.

Sorry if this sounds little harsh, but I can not stop myself.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry, I am using this space to answer the previous comment because it looks as if my comment was misread.

I was saying that it is sad that we mix up English when we speak to our kids. We all do/did. Once we do, how can we say how much is alright? Who decides that?

And it is also sad that we all need another language to earn a living [we all need to, dont we? pl read it as it is... not as making lots of money] and acquire KNOWLEDGE.

And "first rank, lots of money. life with out expressing feelings, with out literaure, and 'crafting good human beings'" all these are beyond the scope of my comment.

A language,I believe, during the course of social evolution gets mixed up with other languages and grows , some transform some die. For the language to be stronger, its people have to progress and dominate in all fields.

Reality is usually harsh.

Jayashree aunty

Venkit said...

My two kids were born and are being raised here in the US. At home we speak in our mother-tongue. My four year old son who goes to pre-school can speak fluently in our mother tongue. I think it is easier to teach your mother tongue to your kids in the US than it is to teach them in India. My little boy knows that when he is in school or playing with the kid next door, he has to speak in English - and when he is at home he has to speak in our mother tongue. In Bangalore it is hard to enforce that distinction, since everyone speaks an English-Kannada blend.

Armchair Guy said...

Sorry for hopping on this a little late. My two cents:

I don't think any parent would keep their child English-illiterate nowadays. The only question is, at what stage and in what way should the child be exposed to English.

There are some interesting articles on this topic like this one which says:

"We're finding that these young children who have rich and early exposure to two languages are remarkably -- and this is quite an exciting finding - cognitively more advanced than their monolingual peers on certain highly sophisticated cognitive tasks to do with attention and abstract reasoning. And we think it's because they are switching languages and have access to multiple meanings, have part of their brain massaged like a muscle."

So apart from ephemeral issues such as protecting languages from extinction, the child's development may be a practical factor to consider.

lakshmisha said...

good observation! I did exactly the same to Chinchi who is 5 years now and in UKG. I always talked to her in kannada and she conversed entirely in kannada. she would never respond when people spoke in English and it scared my wife. I told her that chinchi would pick up english in school and she did exactly that. Now she is fluent in english as well as kannada.. i am going to do the same to Minchu my 4 month old, so that the base for kannada is set and they are free learn any language they want later.. I do not want my kids to say " kannaadaana? very tough!!!""
this is the raaga every single person living in B'lore tells me. i guess speaking Kannada is very much upmarket and i take pride to speak it whereever i am ( in karnataka)

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